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Misguided Alsop has the countryside wrong

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LETTERS

I was surprised and saddened to see that Will Alsop has become a disciple of that much-maligned (deservedly! ) African dictator Robert Mugabe in his wish to see farmers moved off their land and their farms turned into wildernesses for urban-dwellers (presumably him) to use for reflection, exercise and solitude (AJ 31.5.01).

I am equally disturbed to see that you should apparently ally yourself in this call with your banner headlines to the article.

Has it not occurred to you that the countryside as we know it has evolved, been nurtured and maintained by the farming population for hundreds of years? Who do you think planted the hedges and the woodlands, built the dry-stone dykes, cuts the hedges, keeps the nettles and thistles at bay, clears the ditches, maintains the rights of way, plants the grass, breeds and feeds the animals which make such a major contribution to the joy of the countryside?

You are doubtless too young to remember that, if it had not been for the ability of the farmers in this island country to feed the population during the Second World War, the course of history would have been very different and along with the rest of Western Europe we would have grown up under a particularly unpleasant Nazi regime.

As it was, so many thousands of merchant seamen lost their lives trying to get supplies to a besieged country; had they also needed to bring in all the food the country needed, they would inevitably all have sunk without trace.

Farmers would very much prefer to live without subsidies but the costs of production do not enable them to provide food at prices the consumer is prepared to pay. Much of the ill apparent in the countryside stems from the exhortation of successive governments after the war to grow more, which resulted in most farmers investing huge sums of money and becoming inextricably in debt to their bankers.

Do not blame the farmers for the apparent mismanagement of the country.That falls squarely on the politicians of both this country and the EU - and the supermarkets' never-ending quest for a higher share of the market and profits to match.

I was born and brought up on a farm which has been in the hands of the same family since 1832, when my great-grandfather (who had saved enough to graduate from being a farm worker) took the tenancy. I still live on the farm and run my architectural design practice from there.

My father was the first tenant farmer in the Scottish borders to buy his farm from his landlord (on Armistice Day, 1918) after winning a notable legal battle for tenants' rights which still forms the backbone of agricultural law today.

I farmed for the first 20 years of my working life and put my all into the improvement of the farm infrastructure and its livestock - and the best return I ever made was 2.5 per cent of the capital invested.

My brother took the farm under his wing when I decided to concentrate on the design practice, and his sons have now taken over from him. In a recent report by the Scottish Agricultural Advisory Service, the average profit of all Scottish farms in 2000 was less than £5,000. Like most, this family enterprise is no huge industrial business; it is a livelihood on which our family depends.

Why should we or any other farming family be forced to give up what we have improved and nurtured for nigh on 170 years to see it turned into a recreational space for the likes ofWill and yourselves? Farmers have rarely been unwilling to let urban dwellers enjoy the countryside they themselves have created (provided they follow the Countryside Code); I wonder how many urban businessmen would happily allow all and sundry to roam through their homes and places of work unhindered and without recompense?

Take stock of the dereliction in Zimbabwe of the farms taken into 'public' ownership and think of the increase in tax that would be necessary to 'nationalise' the land.

I have subscribed to AJ for almost 40 years and enjoyed reading it; my subscription is up for renewal shortly but I am having second thoughts about doing so after reading such illinformed nonsense.

Ian Scott Watson, Harelaw Moor, Greenlaw, Berwickshire

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